Hermeneutics - Lesson 27

Hermeneutics and Apocalyptic Literature

Dr. Todd Miles provides an insightful analysis of apocalyptic literature in this lesson. He starts by highlighting the unique characteristics of this genre, such as revelatory communication, angelic mediation, and discourse cycles. Apocalyptic literature aims to reveal otherworldly truths to human recipients, often through visions and guided by angelic beings. These revelations serve to interpret present circumstances in light of the supernatural world and the future, encouraging both understanding and righteous behavior among the audience.

Todd Miles
Lesson 27
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Hermeneutics and Apocalyptic Literature

A. Introduction

B. Features and Characteristics

C. Hermeneutical Principles

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  • Understanding the Bible through biblical theology is crucial, as it reveals the overarching narrative of God's redemptive plan, centered on His glory and the role of Jesus Christ, enabling a more profound comprehension of individual Bible passages and their relevance to our lives.
  • Dr. Todd Miles underscores the vital role of historical and cultural context in interpreting the Bible. Understanding the era when a passage was penned is crucial for grasping its genuine significance. Using examples like the virgins' parable and Revelation 3:14-22, it demonstrates how historical context aids in discerning interpretations and adds depth to the message. The text emphasizes that, while the Bible offers some historical context, external sources can also enhance comprehension. In conclusion, historical and cultural context is essential for accurate biblical interpretation.
  • In this lesson on Hermeneutics by Dr. Todd Miles, the focus is on understanding the cultural context when interpreting biblical texts. Dr. Miles emphasizes that culture plays a significant role in both the biblical author's writing and the reader's interpretation. He discusses the concept of cultural conditioning, highlighting that everyone, including the biblical authors, the original audience, and modern readers, is influenced by their respective cultures.
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  • In this lesson, you will gain an understanding of interpreting biblical narratives. It begins by discussing the distinction between historical narratives and parables, emphasizing the importance of recognizing the markers of historical narrative.
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  • Dr. Todd Miles discusses prophecy's significance beyond predicting the future. It validates God's deity, reveals future realities, and guides our present actions. Most prophecy is about forth-telling and emphasizes covenant understanding.
  • In this Hermeneutics lesson, you'll gain insights into the challenges of interpreting prophecy, including wrong expectations, historical context, conditional fulfillment, and various forms of prophetic proclamations, while also being reminded not to let contemporary agendas override the biblical text.
  • In taking this lesson, you gain insight into the concept of typology in biblical interpretation. Typology involves finding resemblances between Old Testament figures, events, and institutions and their fulfillment in the New Testament, particularly in relation to Jesus Christ.
  • Learn about poetry in the Bible by exploring Hebrew poetic parallelism and its emotional power in Psalms. Discover how poetry enhances biblical narratives and offers unique insights.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Todd Miles discusses various types of psalms found in the Psalter and delves into their unique characteristics and theological significance. He begins by providing a list of different kinds of psalms, emphasizing that this list is not exhaustive but illustrative, highlighting the diversity of poetry within the Psalms.
  • By studying this lesson, you gain insight into essential figures of speech in the Bible and learn to interpret them effectively, enhancing your hermeneutical skills and deepening your understanding of the Scriptures.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Todd Miles discusses the interpretation of parables. Parables are a specific literary genre with their own rules of interpretation. Parables are designed to teach a single point, although there might be exceptions. Historical context remains essential in understanding parables, as they are shaped by the situations of the day. 
  • This lesson explores Proverbs and wisdom literature, focusing on its distinct genre, interpretation rules. Dr. Miles highlights its purpose, living wisely with God. It emphasizes the fear of the Lord, touches Ecclesiastes' question of meaning, and Job's theodicy.
  • In this lesson on interpreting epistles, Dr. Todd Miles underscores the importance of understanding their structure, argumentative methods, and central theological focus on Jesus Christ and the gospel, even when addressing practical issues within the early Christian communities.
  • Dr. Todd Miles delves into apocalyptic literature, emphasizing its distinct features like revelatory communication and angelic guidance. It unveils profound truths through visions, promoting understanding and righteous conduct.
  • In this lesson, Dr. Todd Miles explores the concept of perspicuity, which refers to the clarity of the Bible. He begins by explaining that perspicuity is a theological term used to describe how clear the Bible's teachings are. It means that the Bible is written in a way that its teachings can be understood by anyone who reads it, seeks God's help, and is willing to follow it.
  • This lesson provides practical guidelines for applying biblical principles. Dr. Miles emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit, examining the original context, and identifying parallel situations in the present. He encourages applications to be personal, specific, measurable, and time-bound, ensuring they lead to tangible actions in your life.
  • In this lesson, you'll grasp the Holy Spirit's vital role in biblical interpretation, going beyond changing hearts to enabling comprehension and acceptance of the text. Dr. Todd Miles stresses the Spirit's role in illuminating the Bible, making it relevant to believers, challenging the idea that unbelievers interpret it as effectively, and emphasizing the importance of understanding the text's intent. The ultimate aim is not mastery but being mastered by the text, with the Holy Spirit as a key player.
Hermeneutics is the science and art of the interpretation of the Bible. It's a science because it is an orderly process based on rules you can apply. It is an art because of the nuances in communication and translation.



Dr. Todd Miles


Hermeneutics and Apocalyptic Literature

Lesson Transcript


The last of the biblical genres that I want to consider is apocalyptic. And I know this is probably the reason why you signed up for this course, so you could learn how to interpret the apocalyptic literature. Exactly. What kind of helicopters are those crazy locusts that we find in the Book of Revelation? Well, hang on and we'll get there. Apocalyptic is a bit confusing because of the imagery that's used. Consider Revelation chapter 12. Verses one through six, a great sign appeared in heaven. A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars on her head. She was pregnant and cried out in labor and agony as she was about to give birth. Then another sign appeared in heaven. There was a great fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven crowns. Its tail swept away a third of the stars in heaven and hurled them to the earth. And the dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth so that when she did give birth, it might devour her child. She gave birth to a son, a male, who is going to rule all nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God into his throne. The woman fled into the wilderness where she had a place prepared by God to be nourished there for 1260 days. What are we supposed to do with literature like this? Who or what is this Red Dragon? Who's this crazy woman in the sky? How is it possible stars can be cast down to earth? Then there's a dragon. That a real dragon. What about these? 1260 days Are those literal days? 24 hour days. Ages? What? What are we supposed to do with this? Well, welcome to the world of apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic as a genre, it didn't come to be recognized as it's unique, as a unique literary genre until the second century. It was named after the Book of Revelation. The Greek word for revelation is apocalypse. This so and that word means to reveal. I know a lot of times when we talk about, Wow, that was apocalyptic. We think doomsday or final judgment or something. But but apocalyptic literally means to reveal something. And it's something. Let me I read you something by Adella Collins, who writes Apocalypse is a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation and spacial insofar as it involves another supernatural world. Apocalypse was intended to interpret present earthly circumstances in light of the supernatural world and of the future, and to influence both the understanding and the behavior of the audience by means of divine authority. I think that's an excellent summary of apocalyptic literature, what it is, and how it seeks to accomplish what it wants to accomplish. What are some of the formal features and characteristics of apocalyptic literature? Let me add to this that the apocalyptic literature, we find it in the Book of Revelation, certainly, but we find it in the Old Testament as well. And it was a significant literary genre of the Jewish people in the Intertestamental period. It was given a name formally in the second century because of the popularity of the Book of Revelation. So that's that's some of the calendar to that whole thing. Okay. Formal features and characteristics of apocalyptic literature. First thing, revelatory communication. Something is being revealed. That's why we call it apocalyptic literature. This is typically employed through visions, though this is not always the case. Ben Witherington writes that the basic assumption of apocalyptic is that heavenly and spiritual things are now hidden from fallen mortal gaze and can only be known if they are revealed through a revelator one who sees into the other realm. So revelation. And we as in all revelation, we are dependent upon God for it. Once again, we don't sneak up on God and discover things about His plan for the future that He does not want us to know. God is sovereign over details of the future. So revelatory communication. That's number one. Second, and this was this was spoken well in that summary by Collins, angelic mediation to a chosen human. And we see this in the Book of Revelation, where there's an angel who guides who guides John through his visions. We see that with Daniel in the Book of Daniel. We see that with Ezekiel as well. And given the symbolism that's often employed, we'll talk about that in a moment. The writer is often confused as to the meaning of the communication. And occasionally, this angelic guide will conduct a tour like in Ezekiel chapter 40, where he takes Ezekiel to the temple and shows him atrocity after atrocity after atrocity and shows shows Ezekiel one thing and it's like, Oh, this is horrible. And you haven't seen anything yet. Wait until you see this. Oh, this is even worse. You think that's bad? Look at this. Oh, that's even worse. That's how this goes with the angelic guides. I wonder if maybe there's a bit of a dark side, even to the Holy Angels, the journey of the chosen human recipient is taken into. Most of the time, though, heavenly realms. And they need a guide. Occasionally the guide will interpret. Sometimes the guide will not. Discourse cycles is a third feature. Discourse cycles. Now, what do I mean by this? Well, what kind of discourse was it? The prophetic writings to go back to prophecy. Those were once spoken oracles. The spirit of Lord would come upon a prophet and the prophet would speak apocalyptic. On the other hand, was literature from the start. The apocalyptic is usually told to write down what he sees. So Revelation chapter one, verse 19. Write, therefore, the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this and oftentimes there's an introductory formula where the the writer, the apocalyptic, if you will, will say, I looked and behold and then tries to describe what he sees. Ethical discourse is another significant feature of the apocalyptic writings, where there's usually an overriding ethical center that clarifies the divisions for the readers. And those ethical pronouncements are typically positive. What I mean by this is there is a strong distinction made between good and evil, and there are no antiheroes, if you will, no reluctant heroes who are struggling with the morality of their choices, not not in the apocalyptic literature. There's good guys and there's bad guys. There's there's the the people who are on the side of God. And then there's people who are on the side of Satan. And there's no wondering which is the right side. And now also, along with this ethical discourse, in a very general sense, as I said when I was talking about prophetic literature, the prophets were like prosecuting attorneys. They're like, Oh, yeah. People who would bring a charge like district attorneys, they would castigate the people of Israel, criticize them, rebuke them. Apocalyptic literature, on the other hand, their goal was to encourage and strengthen the people to whom they're writing. Think in terms of speech act theory again. What's the goal of the apocalyptic literature? It's to encourage perseverance. What's the goal of the prophetic literature to call people back to covenant? One is more rebuking. One is more encouraging. There are warnings of coming, distresses and trials. So there's some telling of the future in the apocalyptic literature. And these are given so that the faithful might endure. They know that when they're in the midst of it, that this was all taken into account. It's part of the plan and we're on the right side, even though things are hard in the moment. Another significant feature of the apocalyptic literature is esoteric symbolism. Whereas the prophets in prophetic literature would draw their symbols more from the natural world, like cut your hair off, how you cook your food, take a belt, bury it, see this basket of figs, that sort of thing. Apocalyptic thought would dip into the world of fantasy and myth. So there's many headed beasts and there's dragons and there's locusts and there's giant statues that come to life and that sort of thing. Also in apocalyptic literature, and this would be true of prophetic literature as well. The significance of numerology is very important. The Book of Revelation, for example, is dominated by the number seven and the number 12, and it's multiples. So pay attention to those numbers. Those numbers are always highly symbolic. That doesn't mean they're merely symbolic, but there's always symbolism behind the numbers in the apocalyptic literature. A recital of history that culminates in judgment is the seventh characteristic or key distinctive of apocalyptic literature. What I mean by this is that the writings will divide time into segments and there's a progression, a chronological sequence in division. Now there's disagreement over how much sequence there is dispensation. On one hand, we'll see the Book of Revelation is basically going from start to finish. There's just one sequence. A lot of people who are all millennial covenant theologians will see the Book of Revelation is as seven cycles. So there's some sequence and then it starts over and in sequence, then it starts over. But at any rate, there's always a sequence and that culminates in judgment. And there is plenty of in apocalyptic literature, plenty of visions of divine judgment. Just in terms of of some some general characteristics as well here. Pessimism toward the present age, it's hard to read the apocalyptic, apocalyptic literature and think, oh, man, he thinks things are going great and they're going to get better and better. No, things in the apocalyptic literature are not going too well, and they're going to get worse before they get better. Second, there's a promise of salvation, a restoration. So things are bad and they're going to get worse until they get better. And that's that's when salvation occurs. A very strong view of transcendent reality. This there's nothing mundane about the apocalyptic literature. There's there's a God in heaven and there's a spiritual world that transcends this merely physical world of ours. There's also a strong determinism at work in the apocalyptic literature. There is an expectation that from start to finish, no matter how bad things are or how how bad they get, God is in control and God will and can break into human history, which is what brings us to that. To the last one on the list. Modified dualism. There's a spiritual world and there's a material world. But in the apocalyptic literature, these two worlds interact and collide, and spiritual realities and spiritual wars take place in the context of the physical world as well. So it's not a strict, bifurcated dualism, spiritual material, but it's an interactive, modified dualism. Axiom number 26 Apocalyptic literature is written to encourage the Saints to persevere. Apocalyptic literature is written to encourage the Saints to persevere. And I have a story to illustrate the importance of this. I think in terms of speech act theory, again, what is the author doing in the text? The author picks apocalyptic literature. Well, in the case of John, because he was forced to. But Jesus picks apocalyptic literature. John will write it so the people of God will have hope and they'll persevere. That's the goal. Encourage perseverance. When I was a seventh grader, I grew up I was in elementary school in the seventies, and the Cold War was at its height and inflation on the rise. And hostages in Iran and this sort of thing and a big cold war with with the Soviet Union and and Hal Lindsey in that decade had written the late great planet Earth. And that that was one of the bestselling books of all time. And and I remember in seventh grade it's the late seventies. And my Sunday school teacher came to us and said, Hey, what is it that you want to study next? And we said, What? We always said, we want to study the cults and not necessarily for any great evangelistic reasons. We just wanted to study what people who are crazier than us believed so that we would feel okay about the crazy things that we believed. You know, hey, I might, you know, get baptized and that sort of thing, but at least I don't wear holy underwear or something like that, right? I'd love to say we wanted to study that stuff for evangelistic purposes, but that would probably be true. So we said, hey, let's let's do a study of the cults. And my my Sunday school teacher said, Oh, wouldn't it be fun to teach end times? So let's do that. And we said, Oh, I have no let's do let's do a study on the cults. And he said, we're going to study end times. That's what we're going to do. And so he came overhead projector charts and graphs and maps and the whole bit armed with late Great Planet Earth. And he he showed us exactly what kind of Soviet MiG helicopter all those crazy locusts were. And Gog in Magog that refers to Russia. And there's going to be this big battle between the United States and Russia that takes place for some reason in in Israel. And I remember from that and I will tell you right now that I was a genuine born again believer. I was I was a follower of Jesus. But by the time he was done, I wanted absolutely nothing to do with the return of Jesus. Nothing. I was just Lord, come later. It's not Maranatha. It's Lord. Come later. Come after I die a natural death. After a long life that's of peace and prosperity. That's what I want. And this is seventh grader. And I look back on that and I think, how dare, how dare anyone open the Bible and teach it in such a way so that genuine Christians don't want anything to do with the return of Jesus. It still just makes me angry that that person so abused his position and so abused the biblical text that that's what happened. He totally, totally failed as a teacher in that instance because he took what was meant to encourage hope and perseverance, and he brought about fear and despair in genuine Christians. It still makes me angry. So don't do that thinking there's this free check theory. What is God doing in the text? Do what God is doing in the text. Don't be at cross-purposes with him. Apocalyptic literature is written to encourage the Saints to persevere. Okay, How do we interpret it? What are we supposed to do with it? Well, number one note the type of literature. There is a difference between prophetic and apocalyptic. So if you're looking at the book of Zechariah, for example, chapters one through six are primarily apocalyptic, while Chapter seven through 14, the latter half is largely prophetic. Those have some different rules and different expectations. But even in the apocalyptic, there's going to be subgenres. John uses epistles in chapters two and three of the Book of Revelation. The present is very important to John, and he addresses the churches that were going that were in that were alive and kicking during this time. He views his reception of the vision as being due to he was in the Spirit. So he's in the Spirit and he gets a word and he writes letters from Jesus to the to these other churches. Note the perspective of the passage through the characteristics that I described above are very important for tracking the perspective of the passage. Is this pessimistic? Is it talking about future events? Is it encouraging hope and perseverance? So look for those things. Look for examples of how to interpret the apocalyptic literature in the passage itself, the passage you're studying and the genre as a whole, both Old Testament and New Testament. Old Testament Apocalyptic provides the most helpful guide to understanding the Book of Revelation that we have. It's been said by people who've done the math on this there are 405 verses in the Book of Revelation. 278 of those 405 contain allusions to the Old Testament, where a lot of the imagery we see in the Book of Revelation is spelled out and explained in the Book of Daniel. For example, the four beasts of Daniel seven to illustrate refer to the world empires and their leaders. So the use of beasts in Revelation 13 seems to build on Daniel and I think should be interpreted accordingly. Note the function and the meaning of the symbols and be careful about taking the images. Literally, the symbols point to reality sometimes in a very figurative way. In the last couple of chapters, the Book of Revelation, where we're given a picture of the new heavens and the new Earth, and and and you get this this city whose gates are always open with super thick walls that are unimaginably thick. Is that do we take that literally? Is that how it's going to be the that the new heavens, the new Jerusalem is described as like this giant high rise apartment living that's cubicle. Now, I suppose if God does it, then it'll be wonderful and we'll want to live there. My impulse, my sensibility right now is I don't really want to live in a giant high rise apartment building in the sky or in the New Jerusalem. But if that's if that's what God makes, then I'm sure it will be the best thing and my mind will be changed. But I'm not certain that that we need to take that literally. I think the the giant cubicle dimensions point more to like the holy of holies that this is where God lives because the holy, holy of holies in the in the ancient tabernacle and temple were was cubical the thickness of the walls demonstrates that the safest place on earth to dwell. Even though in modern cities there isn't a wall around any of them. And the fact that the gates are always open just means that. Well, it's there's no threat. There's no fear there. So it's the safest place and there's no fear. And that's illustrated by having a city with huge walls that are unbelievably thick. But the gates are always open. Now, maybe that's what it will be like, but I don't think it necessarily has to be. Also, I mentioned earlier the numbers that we find in the Book of Revelation, and I said that they're always highly symbolic and I do believe that, but that doesn't mean they're not literal. You can have numbers that are literal and also be symbolic. Take, for example, how many disciples did Jesus have? He had 12. That is a highly symbolic number. It wasn't by accident. It wasn't that there was, you know, 11 guys. And then one more decent one shows up and said, oh, shoot, I well, at 12, I guess 12 is the number. Now there's 12 tribes of of Israel. I think that's so when Jesus picks 12 tribe or 12 disciples, that is highly symbolic. But he literally in time and space had 12 disciples and we know their names. So look at the numbers in the Book of Revelation. And and think immediately about what that number symbolizes. You have, you have the beast, the false prophet, and this other malevolent character that's that's wandering around the Antichrist. And so there's three of these bad dudes. Is that an accident? No. I think there's some unholy trinity sort of thing at work there. Three is a highly symbolic number. Seven, ten, 12, a thousand that the millennium is supposed to be a thousand years long now. For the record, I am pre millennial. How long do I think that millennium will last? I think probably about 1000 years. Will I feel ripped off if it's 998 years or 1004 years? No. Will I feel ripped off if it's 2000 years? No, not at all. The point is, is it's a really long time. And it's a complete period of time as well. I suspect it's going to be a thousand years as well. So highly symbolic and could also be quite literal. Look at the use of symbols in the synchronic literature that is contemporary and the diachronic that is the past literature, as I said, Are there hints for the identity of a symbol or of the number that is that we find in, say, the Book of Revelation that's found in Daniel or Ezekiel, the other big apocalyptic books of the Old Testament? Finally stressed the theological and note the predictive with humility. The future in the apocalyptic literature is not the end in itself. But the means to an end. To comfort and encourage the saints. And yes, there will be a generation of Christians, I believe, who live through the stuff that is spoken of in the Book of Revelation. But until that day, there is still great hope for us because we will experience tribulation. Jesus promised it, and the Book of Revelation gives us hope that we're on the right side. And even though we might not be going through the kind of tribulation that is described in the Book of Revelation, we will encounter struggles and difficulties along the way. And Jesus's words in the Book of Revelation tell us, hang in there. You're on the right side. We win in the end. The writer, John, wanted to turn the reader toward God, not just toward future events, so stressed the theological and note the predictive with humility. Remember, for example, how poorly Israel interpreted their own apocalyptic literature and their own prophecy concerning the first advent the coming of Messiah? Consider also how every generation of Christians ever since Jesus ascended has earnestly believed that they will be alive when Jesus returns. And every single generation of Christian has been wrong because they haven't been alive. Now, that's partly the genius of Jesus. He said, Be ready. I can come back at any time. And that's true. He could come back in the next 5 minutes or 500 years. That fact should give us pause when we get too cocky with our own interpretations. Remember each era in church history believe that Christ would return during its own generation. The point, though, is not to be able to predict precisely when Jesus will return. We're not going to be able to do that. Jesus was very clear about no one knowing the day or the hour, not even himself at the time. I suspect he knows now. I was once asked when a fellow kind of a prophecy guru, Harold Camping, I think was his name, was buying up billboard space all over the place, announcing that Jesus was going to return on such and such a date. And I actually got a phone call from from a young woman who is engaged to be married on that very day. And she was scared. Should I get married on this day? If Jesus is going to return, is that the right thing to do? And I said, if your goal in life is to not get married, to not have your wedding on the day that Jesus returns, there is probably no safer day in the history of the world to get married. Turns out, shockingly, he was wrong. He was wrong. Be very be very humble in your assertions about the dates and times and including just your own interpretation. But be very bold with your assertion of what we know for sure. Jesus will return. He will return bodily. And when he does, he will make everything right. So have hope and persevere.